Bottom Line/Personal: If you’re an empty nester or you just want to get back in the work world after you took some time off for your kids, that can sometimes be really scary. Where do you even start? How do you know what you’re good at anymore, and how do you put your resume together? Very complex questions, but all answerable.

I’m Sarah Hiner, President of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversations with the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.

Today I’m talking to Nancy Collamer, a leading career coach, speaker, and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. Welcome, Nancy.

Nancy Collamer: Thanks for having me.

Bottom Line: Where do you even start sometimes? It’s just so scary. You’ve been out; your skills are rusty; how do you even start to think about where to go back in?

Collamer: The first thing you need to do is think about what it is that you want to do. Which sounds really obvious, right?

Bottom Line: They’ve been taking care of kids forever. They don’t even know, sometimes, what they want anymore.

Collamer: Yeah. The worst thing that you can possibly do in this situation is to say to people, “I’ll do anything,” because that way you come across sounding desperate and unfocused. So it’s really, really critical to take the time, think about your old work – what were the parts and pieces that you might like to continue with?

Think also about the time that you’ve been at home. A lot of people develop wonderful skills during the time they’re at home, through volunteer work, through personal life experience. So spend some time analyzing that so that you get clear on a direction.

But once you’ve done that, chances are that you are going to need to polish up your skills. As soon as you’ve been out of the workplace for a period of time, one of the best ways to quickly get up to speed and get ready to get back into things is to take a class. And I’m not necessarily talking about going back to school for a full-blown degree program. In today’s world, you can go back and do a certificate program. You may only need to take some online courses.

But by doing that, you do a couple of things. One is you put yourself in a community of people who have similar interests. Those could be people who you can network with to find employment. It also helps you to refresh and update your resume, so that’s a critical step as well.

Bottom Line: Is it also an idea for them to – I’ll call it ease back in? Rather than jumping straight into the deep end of 50-hour work week, perhaps either do some part-time work or even do some temping so that you can taste some different environments?

Collamer: Definitely. As you said, it’s a way to sample what’s out there. It’s also a way of getting back into the routine of working, starting to use technology – because once you’ve been out of the workplace even just a year, technology has changed. So it gives you the opportunity to do that, to learn some new skills, to meet some new people. Temping can be a great way to get out there and not only polish your skills, temping often leads to full-time jobs.

It’s interesting; when I first moved to this area, I took on a temp job for 2 weeks. I was actually as a switchboard operator. Because I was in the company, though, and was able to speak with people, and they said, “What are you really looking for?” So a year later I ended up back with that company as a Director of HR. So you never know where those conversations are going to lead.

Bottom Line: What kind of mistakes do people make?

Collamer: I think the biggest mistake that people make is that they don’t get out of the house enough. They sit behind their computer and they look for jobs on the computer, and that, in general, for anyone, is not a great way to find work, but it’s particularly true for people who might have a gap on their resume.

So it’s really important, in addition to doing things like temping or volunteering, to just get out and start talking with people. Because chances are, by the time you’ve been home for awhile – or perhaps you’re older and you’re going back to work – you have a lot of networks and connections that you can tap into. We all know people find jobs through networking; especially true for this age group.

So get out of the house, get out there, go meet people. Go to conferences. That can be a great way. I one time had a client who had been out of the workplace for awhile. She wanted to get back in. She went to a conference, she had a little business card made up with her name and her telephone number, started speaking with people, called people, did some informational interviewing, and literally a few weeks later landed a job.

Bottom Line: One last question: how about the interviewing process? Should people go out and practice interviewing in some way? Perhaps even go on job interviews just for the sake of going on an interview?

Collamer: Yeah, it’s a great suggestion, and I do think if it’s been a long time since you’ve had an interview, it pays to practice a little bit. I think that’s a great idea.

One thing I want to emphasize about the interview is: please, never apologize for the time that you’ve taken at home. If you go in there and say, “Well, I know that I’ve been out a long time and it doesn’t look so good,” you’re going to make the interviewer feel really uncomfortable.

A much better way to handle it is to say, “You know, I was really fortunate to be able to take that time. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I am so excited now about this opportunity,” and then immediately shift the subject back to the job at hand.

Bottom Line: Great way of phrasing it. All right. Thank you, Nancy Collamer.

Collamer: Thank you.

Bottom Line: The bottom line? If you’re ready to jump back into the workplace after taking a break to raise your children, be proud of it. Don’t worry that your skill set needs a little bit of updating or you haven’t been out in the work world.

First, take an assessment. Take a piece of paper and write down some of the skills that you’ve developed. There are many skills through volunteer work or just in parenting, frankly, that you’ve developed, and you’re not even realizing that you’ve got those skills. So take a list of those so you can start to put together your resume.

And then start networking. Talk to people. Get out in the world and see what options are out there. Go to some conferences to make contacts. Perhaps, even print out business cards to hand out to people. Consider temp work – anything to get yourself out and start understanding what the job market is again.

Last but not least, if you really think that you need to update some of your skills, take a class. It’ll give you some extra skill sets, and again, it’ll also get you out of the house and creating new connections. This is Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line.